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RIBA president’s update: what’s happened and what’s planned

Simon Allford

Simon Allford looks back over the last year and ahead to hopes and plans for 2023

Reaching out to the wider public through the 2022 RIBA House of the Year with Channel 4. Won by the Red House by David Kohn Architects.
Reaching out to the wider public through the 2022 RIBA House of the Year with Channel 4. Won by the Red House by David Kohn Architects. Credit: Will Pryce

Around this time last year, I set out my presidential priorities. These have underpinned our Biennial Action Plan 2022-23 endorsed by RIBA Council and Board that sets the focus for the organisation during my presidency. These areas include the issues that matter most to our members: Access to Architecture, addressing PII and carbon, increasing membership engagement, and ensuring our institute is in the right shape to deliver what our members and society need.  

First I’ll focus on the biggest issue of our time: the climate emergency. RIBA representatives used COP27 last October to discuss architects’ vital role in addressing the climate emergency, emphasising the importance of low energy buildings and the significance of retrofitting existing stock. On the theme of climate change, the RIBA is working with leading industry bodies to develop a UK Net Zero Carbon Buildings Standard that will enable industry to robustly prove that built assets are net zero carbon and in line with our nation’s climate targets.

Elsewhere, we have set up an RIBA Council-led expert advisory group to address professional indemnity insurance. Working with insurance experts, the RIBA is leading on this issue within the construction industry for the benefit of our members and wider architectural profession, but it’s equally important to the public interest.  We’ve analysed the findings of the members’ survey we ran in 2022, along with data from the RIBA Business Benchmarking report to give us a robust picture of the current market – expect to see recommendations emerging from this work early this year.

Next, I must highlight progress on the House of Architecture initiative to undertake vital improvements to 66 Portland Place. We’ve appointed Benedetti Architects to lead a feasibility study, to be complete by the end of January. Portland Place is a stunning building, but doesn’t meet our aspirations for carbon, accessibility or inclusion, so a programme of work is vital and overdue. With the vital input of our new director of collections and programmes, we are starting to establish a feasibility model to bring our collections together in one place, accelerating out digitisation plan to make it more accessible in both the physical and virtual world.

As well as work to improve conditions for architects, I am often told the other thing members value is our profile. One way we achieve this is through our partnerships with major broadcasters. The latest is a four-part TV series on Channel 4 that concluded in December. Kevin McCloud and a team of presenters explored the buildings on the longlist for the 2022 RIBA House of the Year. Congratulations to the winner, The Red House in rural Dorset.

The series reached millions of viewers, educating the public and potential clients about what sets an RIBA chartered architect apart.

Finally, I’d like to acknowledge that amid the accomplishments and successes of the past year, there is always more to be done. I’m ever more emboldened by the passion and dedication of our Council, Board, staff, and you our members, working collaboratively and cohesively to help make our global institute an engaging and accessible 21st century institute of ideas: The House of Architecture @RIBA. To do this, we need leadership at every level so as well as our eight new directors, I welcome our new CEO Valerie Vaughan Dick who starts shortly.

I’m sure she will help all our staff team accelerate our progress.